Review by Tulis McCall

Shows For Days - Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater - photo credit Joan Marcus

Shows For Days – Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater – photo credit Joan Marcus

It’s not often that you arrive at the theatre to discover that the curtain went up long before the audience was seated.  This was the case last week on the evening that I attended Shows For Days at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center.  The evening prior, Patti LuPone, fed up with a woman texting throughout the First Act, snatched the phone out of the perpetrator’s hot little hands as LuPone exited stage right.  It was all anyone was discussing – and the chat was favorable on behalf of Ms. LuPone.

So we were not all that surprised when Ms. LuPone appeared for a pre-curtain speech.  But we sure were happy.

Video Credit: Lincoln Center Theater

As to the play – that is a different story. This is a sweet reminiscence by Douglas Carter Beane who was introduced to the Genesius Theatre in Reading Pennsylvania.  He showed up there one day in 1973 to volunteer.  He more or less never left – until he really left.  While there were several core members of the theatre family, the driving force here is Irene (Patti LuPone).  She is a big diva in a little pond, and no one should cross her path who is not prepared to either succumb to her wishes or do battle.

Irene runs the theatre in an old building downtown that is nearly abandoned.  This is the era of civic makeovers when small towns used Federal money to tear down the old and replace it with malls that were miles away.  When her downtown is reached by the wrecking ball Irene negotiates for the Young Republican’s old homestead, and the troupe moves there.

But nothing is simple in Irene’s world.  There is sex, drugs and rock and roll of a sort.  Small towns do not small matters indicate.  Beane – here nicknamed Car (Michael Urie) falls in love for the first time.  With another guy, Damien (Jordan Dean) who is comfortable swinging both ways.  Clive (Lance Coadie Williams) is Irene’s best friend and a closeted homosexual.  Sid (Dale Soules) the actual founder of the theatre and now the sort of general manager, is a lesbian.  As a matter of fact Irene seems to be the only heterosexual in the bunch, except for Maria (Zoë Winters) about whom we don’t know a heck of a lot, and she is busy having sex with whoever wanders by.  Irene is also not above using people’s sexual secrets to her advantage when it comes to the fate of the theatre.

Irene is an equal opportunity schemer, and she is the center of this story to such an extent that everyone else is a satellite.  One wonders why Mr. Beane included anyone else at all because Irene is the sun from which they get their power.  She will lie cheat and steal to keep her theatre going.  No matter the cost to her friends, her marriage or her health.  This would make a stunning one person show.

In the end Irene is undone by her own canoodling.  But that does not stop the show from going on.  If nothing else this play will remind you of the small town theatre to which every one of us has been and in which many of us volunteered.  These places are vibrant collections of people coming together to create fantasies of plywood, brilliance out of good intentions, and magic out of home spun goods.  It still goes on and is the underpinning of every show that makes it to a stage in New York.  Long may they wave.

Shows for Days – By Douglas Carter Beane; directed by Jerry Zaks

Sets by John Lee Beatty; costumes by William Ivey Long; lighting by Natasha Katz; sound by Leon Rothenberg; stage manager, William H. Lang; general manager, Jessica Niebanck; production manager, Paul Smithyman. Presented by Lincoln Center Theater, André Bishop, producing artistic director; Adam Siegel, managing director. At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 212-239-6200, Through Aug. 23. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.

WITH: Jordan Dean (Damien), Patti LuPone (Irene), Dale Soules (Sid), Michael Urie (Car), Lance Coadie Williams (Clive) and Zoë Winters (Maria).